Sex Not Stigma: Using My Sexuality to Manage My Mental Health

Content note: this post discusses mental health struggles in detail and includes slurs and a brief reference to suicide.

Today is #WorldMentalHealthDay. Thousands of brave people have spoken out about their struggles with various mental health conditions. I shared a little bit of my story on Twitter too, if you’re interested. Short version: I live with depression and anxiety.

I use a whole litany of tools to manage my mental health. I take medication, I’m working with The Best Therapist Ever, and I’ve learned to effectively regulate my physical and mental energy levels. I’ve also consistently found sex, masturbation and kink to be really useful and positive items in this toolbox.

#SexNotStigma

It is ridiculous to me that today, in twenty-freaking-seventeen, that there is STILL such stigma around both mental illness and sex. They are two of the great taboos that plague our society.

As a woman, admitting that you like to have sex can be a radical – and dangerous – act.  Speaking up about a mental health struggles is risky and brave for anybody to do. Words like “crazy” and “psycho” are thrown around with abandon. People with mental health issues are routinely portrayed as dangerous. Services that actually help us are thin on the ground and getting cut left, right and centre. Being a woman who talks about sex and is also open about her mental health. Ohhh, boy…

I’ve had my promiscuity chalked up to my mental health conditions more times than I can count. (“Poor girl, she’s acting out sexually because she’s depressed” at best, or “crazy whore!” at worst.) Interestingly, the same has also been true in reverse (“you wouldn’t be so depressed if you’d stop sleeping around!”) But that’s not how this works! I’m a proud slut[1] AND I have a mental health condition. One did not cause the other and ceasing one[2] will not “cure” the other.

The #SexNotStigma campaign aims to break taboos when it comes to talking about sex, including that surrounding sex and mental health. This post is my attempt to add my voice to that vital conversation.

I wrote recently about how I don’t think “don’t play when you’re depressed” is useful or realistic advice, and today I want to expand on that and talk about why, far from being off-limits when I’m low, sexuality has probably helped save my life more than once.

Sex: intimacy, connection, love.

Some people want to be left alone and can’t bear to be touched when they’re depressed. My experience is usually the opposite. I want to be around the people I love and trust, to connect with them in deep and profound ways. Sex is one of the ways in which I connect with some of the important people in my life. Therefore, honestly, fucking my brains out (or at least fucking my sadness out for a while) is one of the best ways a partner can help me when I’m struggling.

Sex reminds me, viscerally and in the moment, that I am loved. For me, mental health wise, a really good fuck with someone I love is basically a cuddle on speed. Throw in a few dozen orgasms (yes, your girl over here is SUPER multi orgasmic) and you will see a marked improvement in the happiness of your Amy.

Sex helps me to focus on all the joyful things – pleasure, love, connection, vulnerability, sensation – in a world that’s fucked.

Sex literally reminds me that there’s so much to live for.

Masturbation: the ultimate self-love.

Self-loathing is a feature of my depression and an unwelcome visitor that likes to pop in from time to time. I’ve learned that the best way to combat it is to be excessively kind to myself – the way you’d be kind to a partner, friend or child who was in pain. Sometimes I take myself out for coffee and cake. Sometimes I give myself permission to stay in bed, read and nap – take a “mental health day,” if you will. And sometimes, I masturbate!

Aside from the obvious benefits of all the happy chemicals that are released at the point of orgasm, masturbation is a means of reminding myself that I am worthy and deserving of pleasure. And on the occasions when romantic rejection or the ending of a relationship triggers my depression, masturbation reminds me that my sexual (and loving!) relationship with myself is the first, last and most important one of my life.

Who needs that git who dumped me when you have cutting edge sex toys, am I right?

Kink: freedom in bondage.

Submitting to a safe partner can be really positive for me when I’m feeling low.

Kink, especially pain play, pulls me out of my head and into my body. It’s hard to be sad when all I can think about is the hand spanking my ass! It’s grounding. It makes all the noise in my head go quiet.

Submission makes me feel useful. When I feel worthless, a well-timed “good girl” can do wonders. To know that I am pleasing somebody else, that I am serving them, gives me a purpose. It reminds me that I have value.

Kink gives me permission to be vulnerable. Play gives me chance to cry if I need to, to scream if I want to, to get pent-up emotions out. It releases me from the responsibility of decision making, of caring for myself or anyone else, even if only for a short time. It gives me permission to just be.

Discovering new paths to pleasure.

Mental illness can impact sexuality in many ways. In particular, feeling very low can make it difficult to get in the right headspace to enjoy sex or orgasm. Certain types of common antidepressants including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also cause erectile dysfunction and anorgasmia. When I first started taking citalopram – a common SSRI – I lost my ability to orgasm for a month.

Was it hell? Yes. Did it also teach me something valuable, namely that I kinda have an orgasm denial kink? Also yes. While this is something I prefer to be voluntary and not drug-induced, going through this experience taught me something really valuable about my fetishes. So there’s value in that.

Problems such as ED and anorgasmia suck (if you’ll pardon the pun) but they also force you to get creative. I finally broke through my month-long dry spell with a high powered vibrator. That’s how I learned that I love really intense vibration! If your cock isn’t getting hard in the way you want it to, you might discover other routes to sexual bliss that you’d never have previously considered or bothered to try.

Integrating the two.

I’ve come to terms, over ten years of having a formally diagnosed mental health condition, that it’s not going away. It’s with me for life and I am better off learning how to manage it than hoping it will disappear. Just like a diabetic would take insulin every day, I take my antidepressants to keep me healthy. (Conceptualising my illness as being exactly comparable to a physical health issue – BECAUSE IT IS – has been surprisingly empowering.)

I’ve also grown into my sexuality in the last ten years. From a girl who was terrified to admit, even in a whisper, that she liked girls and might want to be spanked, I’ve grown into a woman who owns her desires and explores them unapologetically.

And, crucially, I’ve learned to integrate these two things. When my bisexual, kinky and non-monogamous identities ceased to be sources of shame, my mental health directly improved as a result. When my condition started to be properly managed, my sex life improved instantly. And when I learned to use my sexuality to enhance my mental health, I gained a tool that has saved my life.

[1] Yay, reclaiming slurs!
[2] Because you can totally choose to stop being mentally ill, right?

This post was kindly sponsored by the lovely folks at Hot Octopuss, a fantastic and innovative sex toy company who are committed to tackling taboos around sex. Check out their brilliant range of products and their blog, where they talk sex, health and stigma. They’ve even offered a discount code for Coffee & Kink readers – use CK10 to get 10% off (and send a little bit of support my way.) All opinions are, and will always be, my own.

A banner ad for sex toy company Hot Octopuss, who sponsored a post on sex and mental health

It’s Okay to Play When You’re Depressed

It’s #KinkMonth! I’m celebrating by writing a post each day inspired by Kayla Lords’ fab 30 Days of D/s. A week in and I can say that it’s been a brilliant and enlightening experience – I’m already thinking about things I hadn’t considered, or hadn’t considered in a long time, and looking at approaching them from different angles. Like something I deal with all the time: playing when you’re depressed.

Today’s prompt is all about negative emotions:

How do you handle negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear now? How do you expect that to be different in D/s?

If you’ve been doing kink for any length of time, you’ve probably heard “don’t play when you’re depressed,” “don’t play when your mental illness is flaring up,” or some variation thereof. While the sentiment kind of makes sense, I don’t think this is useful or even realistic advice. Let me tell you why.

For some of us, managing our mental health is a daily reality.

Statistics state that 1 in 4 adults will suffer from a mental health condition during their life. For some of us, these conditions are permanent. I have depression and anxiety which, well-managed though they are, aren’t going away.

It’s actually really ableist to imply that someone who is suffering from a mental health condition can’t engage in kink, BDSM or sex. Why should only neurotypical people be able to enjoy kink? Why should mentally ill people only be able to partake in it on especially good days?

For some people, playing can actually help when they’re depressed.

Sometimes, when I’m bone-numblingly depressed, a good hard fucking or a nice cathartic spanking – the kind that makes me cry – can really help to lift my mood. It could be the rush of endorphins. It could be the feeling of being wanted. Maybe it’s the sheer release that comes from being pulled out of my head and into my body. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of them in some combination. All I know is that sex and kink (including masturbation) can be really wonderful tools in managing my mental health.

Only you know your own limits.

Having said all this, there might be times where your mental health is in a place where playing really isn’t wise for you, but you’re the only person who can make that decision! You know your mind, your body and your condition, if you have one, the best. You know what types of scenes will work for you and what is likely to trigger you or be mentally unsafe, as well as if there’s a point where you can no longer meaningfully consent. No-one else knows these things as well as you do.

“Don’t play when you’re depressed” is vague and subjective to the point of meaninglessness. Different people’s definitions of “play” (as well as their definitions of what constitutes a good or bad mental health day) vary wildly.

Instead: cultivate self-knowledge and communication.

Learn your triggers, your tipping points and your safe limits. Look out for your partner’s best interests and expect them to look out for yours. Communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

Be excellent to yourself and to each other.

Kinky product of the day: A classic Wartenberg Pinwheel, which is great for sensation play and less scary than it looks! (It doesn’t break the skin. Promise.)

The above is an affiliate link and if you buy through it, I may make a small commission.

Communication When Your Partner is Carrying Trauma

It’s #KinkMonth, brought to you by Lovehoney! I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by Kayla Lords’ fabulous 30 Days of D/s project.

Today, we’re discussing my second favourite c-word. No, not cunt (that’s my first favourite!) It’s COMMUNICATION. Communication, the experts will have you believe, is the key to life, the universe and everything. (Or was that 42? I forget.)

Anyhow, today, Kayla and John ask:

What is your communication style? What happens when you try to communicate your thoughts or needs?

I can be hard to communicate with. This is a thing I know about myself. I do consider myself to be overall a good communicator, but these skills have been hard won and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Sometimes I jump to the worst possible conclusion in a single leap, sometimes I find it hard to believe what my partner is saying to me even as they’re spelling it out in plain English, sometimes I look for the hidden meaning behind their words when there isn’t one.

This is all because I am still carrying trauma from past abusive relationships. Of course, it is my responsibility to deal with this stuff, which I am doing with the help of a therapist. However, there’s definitely a role for my partners to play. So here are a few things I’ve learned are helpful in communicating with me. Everyone is different, but if your partner is carrying trauma, here are some communication hacks I’ve found to be helpful.

Be prepared to offer reassurance.

Your partner might need to hear that you’re not mad at them, or that the discussion at hand – even if it’s a conflict – doesn’t mean the end of your relationship. They might need to hear that you still love them, that you value them, that they’re a good person, that everything is okay. Ask them what reassurance is meaningful to them. This is especially important if their love language is “words of affirmation.”

Be prepared to repeat yourself sometimes.

These things might not go in the first time. Or even if they do, they might need repeating the next time a conflict or important discussion arises. When someone is traumatised through abuse, the trauma is drilled into them over weeks, months or years – they’re hit with it again and again. You cannot expect to say something once and have it overwrite a trauma-driven narrative immediately.

Say exactly what you mean.

This isn’t the time for coded messages, hidden meanings or vagueness. Be clear, be xplicit, and don’t play head games where they have to “work out” what’s going on.

Speak and behave calmly.

Don’t shout. Try not to raise your voice. Watch your body-language and make sure it’s not intimidating. Clenching your fists, hitting or throwing objects, or even standing over someone who is sitting or lying down can all feel really threatening.

Don’t succumb to personal attacks.

“I felt upset when I came home late and had to do the dishes, despite you being at home all day” is a statement of what happened and your feelings about it. This is a great place from which to start a conversation! “You’re so lazy” (/stupid/inconsiderate/etc.) is a personal attack. You shouldn’t do this to anyone, but doing it to a person with relational trauma can be triggering and can seriously erode trust.

Above all: ask.

Ask your partner how they want to be communicated with! Ask them what makes them feel safe and heard, and what makes them shut down. And most importantly: listen to the answer and behave accordingly.

Kinky item of the day: This lovely blindfold, which is currently on sale. Sensory deprivation can be sexy as fuck!

This post contains affiliate links. All views are, as always, my own. 

How Not to Punish

If you’ve just now found the blog, you may not know that October is #KinkMonth! Go check out the hashtag, and also don’t forget you can get 15% off at Lovehoney until 15th October when you spend £50 or more.

I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by the topics in Kayla Lords’ brilliant 30 Days of D/s project. Today’s prompt was all about punishment and discipline. Kayla and John ask:

As a submissive, are you willing to allow a Dominant to discipline or punish you in your relationship? As a Dominant, are you willing to require discipline or give out punishment? What kinds of punishments can you imagine for bad behavior?

First, some disclaimers:

Note the First: When I talk about punishment here, I am talking about the type that is genuinely intended to correct or admonish someone for perceived or actual negative behaviour. I am NOT talking about “funishment,” wherein the idea of “punishment” is used as part of a game, roleplay or kinky scene. In other words, “funishment” isn’t intended to genuinely correct any behaviour.

Note the Second: I’m going to admit this straight up: I’m skittish about the idea of punishment. Yes, even in 24/7 D/s relationships. I lean very strongly towards the side of “adults are not children and punishment does not belong in a respectful relationship”. However, I also acknowledge that this is largely as a result of my baggage from non-consensual “punishment” dynamics in my past. I 1000% respect the right of other consenting adults to negotiate their dynamics differently and to include punishment in their relationships.

Therefore, here’s a short list of things to be aware of if you do decide to include punishment in your D/s relationship. This is aimed at the D-types, but I would implore submissives to please also be on the look out for these things happening and seriously reevaluate if they do.

Don’t Punish in Anger

Please never, ever, ever punish somebody in anger. Even if you’ve agreed you can punish your submissive when they fuck up, when you’re angry in the immediate aftermath of the mistake is not the time to be dishing out punishment. Being angry opens you up to the risk of going too far, hurting someone (physically, mentally or emotionally) in a way they haven’t consented to, breaking consent and permanently destroying trust. Just don’t do it. Ever.

Don’t Punish for Real, Serious, Possibly-Relationship-Breaking Transgressions

I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but if your submissive has (for example) cheated on you or something equally serious, that’s not the time to start whaling on their ass. Even if spanking is something you’ve explicitly negotiated as a punishment. A fuck-up, mistake or betrayal that epic requires you to sit the fuck down as equal adults and have a very serious conversation about the state of your relationship and where to go from here.

Don’t Punish With Triggers

Triggers are things that evoke a serious and visceral negative emotion or “flashback” as a result of past trauma. They can take all kinds of forms and it’s your responsibility to be aware of these and avoid tripping over them as far as you can. Absolutely do not use them against your partner in punishment. For example, if your partner has an abandonment trigger, punishing them by not speaking to them is likely to be devastating. If they have childhood trauma from being spanked, throwing them over your knee and hitting them will cause real and genuine harm. Using triggers to punish someone is abuse.

How do YOU feel about punishment? Tell me in the comments or tweet me with your thoughts.

Kinky item of the day: I’m pretty anti-punishment in my relationship but I LOVE funishment, being bent over the bed or someone’s lap and thoroughly spanked. Therefore today’s item is one of my favourite tools and one of the easier impact play toys to use: a classic spanking paddle.

This post contains affiliate links. If you shop with one, I may make a small commission. All opinions are and will always be my own.

How to Find – and Work With – a Sex Positive Therapist

Mr CK and I have officially The Best Therapist In The World (According to Us.) We really landed on our feet – when we decided to explore joint counselling as a way to ease the transition to living together and deal with some past traumas, we thought it would be really difficult to find someone who would accept us in all our poly, kinky weirdness. Instead, the first person we contacted turned out to be the perfect therapist for us (and has an office a minute from our house, which doesn’t hurt.)

Most people, however, are not so lucky when trying to find a therapist – and the more “out of the mainstream” traits one possesses, the harder it is. So I thought I’d put together a quick guide to help you find, and work with, a sex-positive therapist who’s a good fit for you.

1. Use an appropriate directory

There are directories of kink-aware (etc.) professionals. Try the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (multiple countries, somewhat US centric,) the Open List (US only) or Pink Therapy (mainly UK,) or even just do a Google search with some keywords and see what comes up. If you can find someone who is already versed in working with sexual minorities, you’ll be on much better footing right from the beginning. But if this isn’t possible or you can’t find someone suitable from these resources…

2. Put everything on the table upfront.

By ‘upfront,’ I mean ‘ideally before the first appointment.’ Chances are you’ll talk to a potential therapist on the phone, or at least by email, before setting up your first appointment.

I listened hesitantly as Mr CK laid everything out on the phone to our potential therapist a year ago. Queerness? Check. Polyamory? Not an eyelash batted. Surely BDSM would be too much for her to deal with? Nope. (“Consensual sadomasochism? Oh yes, I know what that is.”) It was a difficult conversation to have with a total stranger we were potentially going to entrust with our innermost traumas and strains, but it was so, so worth having. Because when we walked into her office, we knew that none of the many facets of our unconventional sexual identities were going to be used against us.

3. Make it clear your identities aren’t the problem.

The other piece of our success was making it clear that “we’re queer, polyamorous and kinky… and none of those things are at all problematic for us.” It was context, not a statement that these things needed fixing. If your therapist pathologises your sexual identities or tries to convince you they need to change, fire them immediately and go to someone better.

4. Be unapologetic.

This applies in your initial disclosure of your identities and also any subsequent discussion in case they come up. If you act like your identities are something to be ashamed of, your therapist is more likely to react in kind or to perceive them as some kind of problem. If you’re matter of fact and unapologetic, they’re more likely to take the information on board as nothing more than useful background knowledge.

Say this: “Just so you know, for context, I’m queer, polyamorous and practice BDSM. Do you know what those things are?”

Not this: “Um, I know it’s weird, but… I do some unusual sexual stuff. Please don’t think I’m a freak but…”

5. Expect them to educate themselves

Unless you’re unbelievably lucky, your therapist will probably not be an expert on all the different facets of your identity. Educating them is not your job. Of course, you will need to talk about what words like “polyamorous” or “kink” or “sex positive” mean to you, but you’re paying them to help you, and that includes educating themselves. If they’re asking you basic or 101 questions, suggest some resources and move the conversation on. If they make no effort to learn, they’re not a good therapist.

6. Don’t be afraid to steer the conversation

If things come back to aspects of your identity that aren’t relevant to the subject at hand, don’t feel afraid to steer the conversation back in the direction you want it to go. “I don’t think X is relevant here” is a useful phrase. Again, if they insist that an aspect of your sexuality is a problem when it isn’t problematic for you, think about moving on. If they use any expression resembling, “you wouldn’t have this problem if you were [monogamous/vanilla/whatever,]” I strongly suggest ditching them straight away.

7. Remember you deserve top quality care.

You’re probably paying a lot of money for therapy, but whether you are or not, you deserve the best care from your therapist. They work for you. You can end the therapist/client relationship any time you choose and there are amazing therapists out there, so please don’t settle for someone who doesn’t treat you – all facets of you – with the respect you deserve.

How has your experience of therapy been as a sex-positive, LGBTQ+, non-monogamous or kinky person?

If this piece helped you, please consider buying me a virtual coffee to say thanks!